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‘For one demented summer, it was Mecca’ – the rise and fall of a Yukon gold rush town

Between 1896 and 1899, tens of thousands of mostly amateur prospectors braved treacherous conditions to reach the remote Yukon town of Dawson City, located just under 175 miles from the Arctic Circle. This was the Klondike gold rush, one of the last great gold rushes in North America. This classic documentary from 1957 charts the rapid rise and fall of Dawson City, as recounted by the Canadian author and Dawson native Pierre Berton. And although very few struck it rich from gold, in Berton’s telling, Dawson City still carried with it a spirit of vibrance and hope, if only for a small time. Contrasting photographs of its gold-rush heyday with footage of the much sleepier Dawson City of the 1950s, directors Wolf Koenig and Colin Low juxtapose two very different eras of the unlikely settlement. For modern viewers, its slow pans over still photographs and earnest and immersive storytelling likely bring to mind the work of the US historical documentarian Ken Burns, who credits the film as a major influence. The film won the Palme d’Or for best short at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award in 1957.

Directors: Wolf Koenig, Colin Low

Producer: Tom Daly

Narrator: Pierre Berton

Website: National Film Board of Canada

27 March 2018

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